Are kelpies really dingos?

kelpies dingos DNA
Professor Claire Wade and two former working kelpies, Peppa (red) and Cash (black and tan). Photo by Vanessa Saines/University of Sydney

Many kelpie owners wonder if their dog has a little bit of dingo in them, believing that the kelpie was bred with the dingo to make them more resilient to the Australian climate. Now new research suggests this may simply be bush folklore.

Researchers at the University of Sydney have found no genetic evidence that the iconic Australian kelpie shares canine ancestry with a dingo.

Their paper, published in the journal Genes, is the first peer-reviewed study of its kind to find that the domestic and wild dogs share no detectable common DNA in genes impacting coat colour and ear type.

“It has been said that the dingo was mixed with the kelpie, which originally came from Scotland, to produce a more resilient and hardy dog that could withstand hot, dry Australian conditions,” said Professor Claire Wade, from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences.

“Our analysis shows there is no genetic evidence for this from any genes affecting the way the domestic and wild dogs look.”

Professor Wade, who is an expert in dog genetics, said some people have come to believe there is a connection simply because the two dogs look similar. They both have pricked up ears, a similar body shape and hair texture, and some kelpies are yellow or cream in colour.

“There’s a bit of Australiana and sentiment here,” Professor Wade said. “We wish the Australian kelpie was somehow special or unique to us. But the breed has come from Scotland and the way we made it our own was by selecting it for our harsh climate.”

The study characterised known gene variants of both kelpie types (Australian kelpie—conformation; Australian working kelpie—herding) and compared the variants present with those in sequenced Australian dingoes.

Genes assessed included identified coat colour and ear type variants. None of the coat colour or ear type genes analysed offered support for a shared family history.

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